The new music jukebox software, released two weeks ago as part of, contains features that allow Mac users to stream music to each other over a network. The songs are not downloaded permanently but do allow computer users to listen to any song on another network-connected Macintosh's hard drive.
Several groups of online programmers say they have figured out ways to extend this feature from a local area network to the Net. A few Web sites and software applications are claiming to allow people to search other Net-connected Macintosh computers' hard drives in order to listen to songs online.
"The feature is built into iTunes...but we had to dissect it ourselves," said Kevin April, Webmaster for Spymac.com, which launched its own music-sharing hub last week. "Integrating it into a Web service was a big task."
The rise of the new services threatens to put Apple's software squarely in the center of a controversy that the company had hoped to avoid with the release of its new iTunes online music store. That site, which offers easy access to a huge music catalog of 99-cent songs, won strong kudos from record labels as a big step forward in the authorized distribution of music online.
It's not wholly clear whether sharing music with a few, even anonymous people online veers completely away from that vision. The sharing feature is only as strong as a given Mac user's bandwidth, which for most home consumers can support just a few individuals, April said.
Nevertheless, the new services say that they offer a way to search and stream songs on demand, which typically requires a specific kind of license from the copyright holders. Long and bitter battles over the cost of those licenses, even for hobbyist Webcasters, have been fought in front of Congress and federal copyright regulators.
Apple itself did not release documentation on the over-the-Net sharing features and does not officially support the efforts.
iTunes "is not meant to be used in any other way than for personal use," said an Apple representative. The company said it will be monitoring the trend, but had no further comment.
An earlier project called iCommune advertises the ability to download other Mac users' songs, much like more traditional peer-to-peer services. That project was shut down once after protests from Apple, but has been relaunched without using proprietary Apple technology.